LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1972/95-96
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/MP/1

LegCo Panel on Manpower

Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 24 June 1996 at 4:00 p.m.
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon LAU Chin-shek (Chairman)
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
    Hon LI Wah-ming
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon LEE Kai-ming
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing

Members Absent :

    Hon NGAI Shiu-kit, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam

Public Officers Attending :

Items III - V
Mr Matthew CHEUNG, JP
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Items III & IV
Mr Alfred CHAN, JP
Deputy Commissioner for Labour
Mr Raymond FAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Item III
Mrs Angela HO
Assistant Commissioner for Labour

Item IV
Mrs Jennie CHOR
Assistant Commissioner for Labour

Item V
Mr Tony Reynalds
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Staff in Attendance :

    Miss Polly YEUNG, CAS(1)3
    Ms Connie SZE-TO, SAS(1)5

I. Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1624/95-96)

The minutes of the meeting held on 27 May 1996 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to hold the next Panel meeting on Monday, 22 July 1996 at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the following items :

  1. Employment of overseas nationals in Hong Kong; and
  2. Action plan to enhance industrial safety.

III. Issues related to collective bargaining

(Position paper by Hon LEE Cheuk-yan at Appendix A of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1663/95-96, Administration’s information paper tabled at the meeting)

3. Hon LEE Cheuk-yan briefly introduced his position paper which urged the introduction of legislation on collective bargaining in Hong Kong. The salient points of his proposal were as follows :

  1. The legislation should be applicable to establishments employing more than 50 workers.
  2. An employer would be required to undertake collective bargaining with a trade union or employees’ organisation whose membership reached 25% of the total number of employees of that establishment. In the event that more than one union/organisation met this criterion, an election would be held to determine which union/organisation should represent the employees to undertake negotiation with the employer.
  3. All negotiations must be held directly between the employer and the union/organisation.

    Mr LEE also indicated his intention to introduce a member’s bill if the Administration failed to address the matter.

4. The majority of the members present at the meeting supported the proposal to legislate for collective bargaining for the following reasons :

  1. International Labour Convention (ILC) No. 98, which was applied in Hong Kong, provided that governments should encourage and promote collective bargaining. ILC No. 154 called for imposition of collective bargaining by law.
  2. In the absence of any statutory right to collective bargaining, employees’ bargaining power with employers to improve their working conditions and terms of employment was very limited. Existing labour legislation, which served to provide for the minimum level of benefits, had in reality become the ceiling of protection due to inadequate bargaining power on the part of the employees to negotiate for better terms on top of the statutory minimum.
  3. Mandatory collective bargaining would promote negotiation between employers and employees on an equal basis which would enhance harmonious labour-management relations in Hong Kong. Through stipulated negotiation procedures, employers and employees would be able to settle their disputes more promptly, thus avoiding unnecessary industrial actions and the resultant loss of working days.
  4. There were successful examples of collective bargaining systems in developed western countries, as well as in neighbouring Asian countries including Singapore and Japan.

5. Two members representing the industrial and commercial sectors did not support the proposal to legislate for collective bargaining and expressed the following views:

  1. The current trade union participation rate of 21% might indicate that employees in Hong Kong preferred other discussion and negotiation mechanisms rather than relying solely on trade unions to negotiate with the employers. Hence, it was not advisable to empower trade unions with the right to bargain collectively on behalf of the employees.
  2. Hong Kong had a good record in labour relations, as revealed in the number of working days lost due to work stoppage which was one of the world’s lowest. Compulsory collective bargaining might have an adverse impact on this relationship and prompt confrontation between employers and employees rather than promoting co-operation and goodwill.
  3. Harmonious labour-management relation was essential in attracting foreign investment and sustaining continuous economic growth in Hong Kong. Some western countries, such as France, which practised mandatory collective bargaining, did not enjoy good economic performance.

6. In response to members’ views, Mr Alfred CHAN made the following points :

  1. ILC No. 98 only called for voluntary negotiation between employers or their organisations and workers’ organisations. It did not oblige the Government to impose collective bargaining by law. ILC No. 154 had not been ratified by the United Kingdom and was not applied to Hong Kong. Although Article 4 of the Convention provided for the introduction of legislation on collective bargaining, Article 6 did not preclude the operation of industrial relations systems in which parties to the collective bargaining process voluntarily participated.
  2. The Administration was not against the practice of collective bargaining in Hong Kong, but had reservations on compulsory collective bargaining by law. The existing practice of direct and voluntary negotiation between employers and employees, underpinned by the Labour Department (LD)’s conciliation service, was more flexible and working to the benefit of all parties concerned.
  3. Given the low trade union participation rate and the small membership in most trade unions, compulsory collective bargaining might have the demerits of precluding employees’ existing right to engage in voluntary and direct negotiation with employers and might even induce different unions in the same establishment to vie among themselves for the exclusive right to collective bargaining.
  4. There would be technical difficulties in implementing a compulsory collective bargaining system in Hong Kong. The scope of negotiation had to be carefully and clearly defined to avoid jeopardising the rights and benefits of both parties. Moreover, the proposal whereby the Registrar of Trade Unions would be tasked with the verification of information on union membership might pose operational difficulties.

7. Mr LEE contended that it was necessary to legislate for collective bargaining in Hong Kong because at present, some trade unions, despite having the majority of employees as their members, were not recognised by employers in negotiations. This had greatly hampered the development of union activities in Hong Kong and in turn led to low union participation rate. Some members considered that the Administration should adopt a more open attitude towards mandatory collective bargaining and its contributions to the enhancement of harmonious employer-employee relations. A member also urged the Administration to take the lead to promote collective bargaining within the civil service and subvented sector.

8. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman concluded that as diverse views had been expressed on this subject, the Panel might wish to further deliberate at its future meetings. Meanwhile, he asked the Administration to consider members’ views seriously.


IV. Employment policy for Chinese immigrants

(Position Paper by Hon LAW Chi-kwong at Appendix B of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1663/95-96 and his draft Employees Retraining (Amendment) Bill tabled at the meeting. Administration’s information paper at Appendix C of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1663/95-96, Chinese version of the paper tabled at the meeting)

9. Hon LAW Chi-kwong briefed members’ on his proposal to formulate a comprehensive employment policy for Chinese new immigrants (CNIs). The major recommendations included the setting up of a mechanism for assessment of the academic and professional qualifications of CNIs, extension of the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS) to CNIs and strengthening adult education courses to improve their language standard. On the recommendation to extend the ERS, Mr LAW informed members that he had drafted a bill to amend the Employees Retraining Ordinance (ERO) (Cap. 423) to extend the eligibility for ERS courses and retraining allowance to CNIs. He urged the Administration to consider amending the ERO accordingly and to allocate adequate resources to meet the enlarged scope of implementation, otherwise he would consider initiating a member’s bill on the subject. On improving the language standard of CNIs, Mr LAW welcomed the Administration’s plan to lower the minimum age for entry to English courses under the adult education programme from 18 to 15 years of age.

10. Regarding Mr LAW’s proposal on the ERS, Mr Matthew CHEUNG informed the meeting that a comprehensive consultancy study on the scheme covering all key aspects was expected to be completed in about August 1996. If legislative amendment was considered necessary, the Administration would hope to introduce the necessary amendments in the first half of the next LegCo session. He also cautioned that widening the scope of the ordinance might have financial implications.


11. Responding to a member’s suggestion of providing CNIs with tailor-made courses to improve their Cantonese and basic English, as well as interviewing skills to facilitate them in seeking employment, Mrs Jennie CHOR advised that at present, arrangements were made on a case-by-case basis for CNIs to sit-in at certain retraining courses. She undertook to reflect the suggestion to the Employees Retraining Board and other appropriate training bodies, such as the Vocational Training Council, for consideration. Mr CHEUNG added that the consultancy study on ERS had included a review on the spectrum of retraining courses.


12. As far as provision of employment services to CNIs was concerned, Mrs CHOR emphasised that the range of services currently offered to permanent residents of Hong Kong, such as job placement and career advice, was also available to CNIs. She explained that although no separate statistics on CNIs had been kept by the Local Employment Services (LES), the LD estimated that about 10% of the registrants under the Job Matching Programme (JMP) were CNIs. The placement rate for CNIs under the JMP was 70% which was comparable to the overall placement rate for all JMP registrants.

13. Noting that the majority of CNIs were working as clerical, service and production workers and earning monthly salaries ranging from $5,000 to $8,000 which were lower than the current monthly median wage of $8,400, Mr LAW opined that the Administration should provide more assistance to CNIs with non-local degrees and professional qualifications to facilitate them in seeking employment relevant to their qualifications. This would also contribute to better utilisation of manpower resources in the territory.

14. Addressing Mr LAW’s concerns, Mrs CHOR made the following points :

  1. The current monthly median wage of $8,400 was only an overall mid-range wage level. There were in fact differences in the wage levels for different occupations and wage rates in Hong Kong were mainly determined by the market forces of supply and demand. The current monthly wages earned by CNIs working as clerical, service and production workers were comparable to those of their local counterparts placed by the JMP.
  2. It was Government’s general policy that individual employers in Hong Kong were free to exercise their discretion on whether or not to accept certain academic qualifications for their job positions. While employers could approach the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation for advice on the comparability of non-local academic qualifications with local ones, it was not appropriate for the Government to interfere with or advise on individual employer’s assessments.
  3. In providing placement services to CNIs, LD would draw employers’ attention to the immigrants’ academic and/or professional qualifications relevant to the posts in question and encourage employers to accept them. For the purpose of civil service appointment, the Civil Service Branch had established mechanisms for assessing non-local academic or professional qualifications to determine whether the holder of the qualifications met the entry requirements of the post applied for.

V. Discrimination in employment on the ground of age

(Information note by Hon LAU Chin-shek at Appendix D of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1663/95-96; LegCo Brief Ref : EMBCR1/3231/95 Part VII)

15. Mr CHEUNG briefed members on details of the Administration’s study on discrimination in employment on the ground of age. Members of the public were invited to forward their views on the issue by 7 August 1996 and meanwhile, the Administration remained open-minded on the way forward.

16. The Chairman remarked that the consultation paper lacked objectivity as the Administration seemed to be dissuading the public from supporting the legislative option by stating a number of disadvantages associated with such option. Another member cast doubt on the findings of the fact-finding survey conducted early this year and pointed out that although little evidence of pure age discrimination by employers due to personal prejudice had been found from the survey, it should not be concluded that the problem did not exist. He also considered it inappropriate to differentiate between “statistical age discrimination” and pure age discrimination as both were discriminatory in practice. In his opinion, both the legislative option and increased public education and self regulation could be adopted to deal with the issue.

17. In response, Mr CHEUNG stressed that the Administration had not taken a stance on the three possible options outlined in the consultation paper. The Administration had commissioned the Lingnan College, a tertiary institution independent from the Administration, assisted by the Survey Research Hong Kong Ltd to undertake the fact-finding survey. It had been stated in paragraph 6.10 of the consultation paper that the legislative and non-legislative options were not mutually exclusive.

18. Noting that the Chairman would introduce a member’s bill on equal opportunities covering family responsibility, sexuality and age, and pending the results of public consultation by the end of August 1996, Mr CHEUNG enquired whether the Chairman would consider deferring his bill in anticipation that the Administration would put forward its proposal to deal with age discrimination in employment. In response, the Chairman said that he would introduce the bill in early July 1996 as scheduled so that it could be enacted as early as possible in the next LegCo session. However, the Chairman indicated that he would be delighted to consider the Administration’s legislative proposal, if any. In the event that there were substantial differences between the two bills and the Administration’s legislative timetable could not tie in with his own, he would still proceed with his bill.

The meeting ended at 5:45 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
19 August 1996

Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998